A couple of weeks ago my adult son returned to Louisiana from the UAE to participate in one of his friend’s wedding. I invited him to lunch at the Downtown (KDTN) airport near my office. Since the cooks had taken control of the thermostat in the little café the air conditioning was working overtime and it was uncomfortably cold. We opted to sit outside on one of the picnic tables next to the parking ramp for the transit airplanes and enjoy the sun.
There on the ramp of the little commuter airport was a bright shinny Gulfstream G5 with USCG painted on the side and the engines idling. Being inland about 260 miles from the Gulf of Mexico we don’t normally see too many USCG airplanes in our part of the world. We certainly don’t see any G5’s at the downtown airport as the larger municipal airport has a much longer runway and BAFB is just across the river with an 11,000’ runway and is a military airbase more suitable for the USCG. We asked our waitress who was visiting. She said that she would ask and let us know when she brought our hamburgers in a few moments.
The Gulfstream G-V is no small business jet. The price tag starts at $55M and goes up from there. It carries 16 passengers with a crew of 3 on the flight deck and 2 stewards. It travels at 600 mph and can travel about 7,000 statute miles (which is adequate for a transatlantic crossing). We both wondered what the USCG who is tasked with protecting the US coastal regions needed such an airplane for in its mission. This plane was suitable for the Sultan of Brunei or Prince Albert of Monaco.
Just as our hamburgers arrived and we were informed that the plane was for Jeh Johnson a parade of sorts arrived. We quickly googled Jeh Johnson and found out that he was the Secretary of Homeland Security and 18th in the presidential succession line. We looked up and saw 6 motorcycle policemen, followed by 6 black SUVs with blacked out windows, followed by 4 white SUVs with blacked out windows (carrying LA State Police officers), followed by 2 airport security cars. The terminal doors flew open and a covey of security men in suits ran onto the ramp and all talked into their sleeves at once. The white SUVs circled the plane and parked between the airplane and the terminal building. LA State Troopers jumped out of the white SUVs in BDUs and took up positions.
My son and I looked around at the sleepy little airport and it seemed that we were the only ones near the ramp sitting on the other side of the 3’ cyclone fence trying to eat our hamburgers. Apparently one of the troopers thought we looked threatening with our hamburgers and while about 20 yards away from us, drew his weapon and placed it under his elbow in a strange sort of threatening way without pointing it directly at us and taking aim. We stared back and VERY SLOWY chewed our hamburgers. Chris said he couldn’t wait to get back to the Middle East next week where he could feel safe again. We both just sat there afraid to make a sudden moves that might earn us a bullet. Secretary Johnson and an admiral (he looked like an admiral anyway) boarded the airplane and they spooled up the engines and taxied off in short order. After they had taxied clear the troopers and the men in suits talking into their sleeves relaxed and left. We finally breathed a sigh of relief and quickly ate our lunch and left before someone else showed up.
We both noticed that the Secretary of Homeland Security who is over the watchful TSA did not go through any type of airport security. No metal detector or radiation machines for the Secretary. We also commented that this guy was not even an elected official – just an appointed bureaucrat. I looked up on the internet and saw that the USCG not only has one G-5 but TWO (designation C-37A). It seems that the Secretary of Homeland Security has one and the Commandant of the Coast Guard has a second one. (Apparently these guys don’t know how to share.) And why do they need a $55 million dollar airplane. The biggest Learjet can carry 8 passengers with a crew of two and travels just as fast. The Learjet only costs $21M. The new Honda business jet carries 5 passengers with a crew of two, travels 15% slower but only costs $4.5 million dollars. But on second thought, since he is a public SERVANT, why couldn’t he fly commercial. Heck, I would even pay for a couple of first class tickets so he and the admiral could get one of the big comfy chairs up front. Of course he would then have to wait in line and be subject to all the TSA security checks that he is responsible for providing to keep the rest of us safe when we travel. This is a picture that I would like to see – the Secretary himself getting groped by one of his blue-gloved men at a security checkpoint.
My son mentioned that while in Dubai last month he happened upon Sheikh Maktoum’s car in front of a hotel while he was in the hotel lobby. He looked around and saw a mountain of a man in a white robe that could have been an NFL linebacker. He asked him, “Is that the Sheik Mo’s car?” To which he replied that it was. He spoke briefly with the bodyguard who was very respectful and polite for a few minutes. The guard asked my son where he was from and when he answered the United States he immediately stated that he had never been there and would not go there. The guard said the US looked to be a very dangerous place. My son assured him that it was just a matter of avoiding the bad parts and that by and large it was fairly safe. He then told him he had to get ready for their departure. The Sheik appeared from his appointment with a colleague at a public restaurant and then walked to his car with a small security team, waved to the people and drove off. No fanfare, no drawn guns, no hugh security detail with 50 armed men; just the Prime Minister of the UAE, ruler of Dubai and one of the world’s wealthiest men at $14B who is well loved among his subjects walking to his car and going about his business in his own country.
We later talked about the contrast and how US presidents used to walk among the citizens and visit with them. President Truman left office and went home to Missouri without benefit of any security detail. He took his morning walks and would visit with anyone who stopped to say hello. The secret service finally put one man with him when he went out in public after a couple of months. When did our leaders become aloof rulers too good to mingle with the unwashed masses? We certainly want to protect our president but God forbid that if something did happen to him we have a clear succession all the way down to Jeh Johnson (#18 in line) just in case. We certainly would not be thrown into anarchy. I understand that the president has a security detail and the vice president but when did everyone all the way down to the 18th in line get security details? When did past presidents, their wives, their children, aunts, uncles and cousins get security details?
Where does it all end? We are in debt up to our eyeballs and borrowing more every second so we can go even deeper into debt. Whenever anyone mentions cutting the budget we are told that we must cut tours to the White House, cut COLAs for social security, cut Veteran’s benefits. Why don’t we ever talk about cutting personal jets (BIG EXPENSIVE ONES) for every cabinet member and brass hat in government service? Why don’t we ask if we really need 6,500 employees in the Secret Service (3,200 special agents)? This is not even counting the US Marines that also provide protection services to the President. Why don’t we ask if the first Lady needs a personal staff of 26 people? Mamie Eisenhower only had a single secretary and they had to deduct her pay from Ike’s salary. Where did we get the idea that everyone in government was automatically royalty?
There will be an end one day, as things that cannot go on forever simply will not continue to do so. But in the meantime Mr. Secretary, can’t you and the Commandant of the Coast Guard just agree to share the same jet?
Reprinted with permission from Silver Trading Company.